Monday, August 1, 2011

The Uncaring... Rephrase that... Oblivious American

The above link is attached to an interesting article about America's former fascination with studying/reading about/writing about/ keeping updated on/etc. everything French.

I thought the article was pretty interesting because I think that there is something to be said on the subject concerning today's version of "The American" juxtaposed with the version from the early 20th century.

In particular here I am talking about literature, because that is my typical m.o. The Lost Generation, consisting of Pound, Eliot, Hemingway, Plath, Falkner,etc, was particularly into the expat gig. The Beats were no different (see: Beat Hotel). These writers were constantly obsessed with other cultures and this influenced many of their works (see: Naked Lunch, Sun Also Rises, Farewell to Arms, Dharma Bums, Mexico City Blues, The Yage Letters, etc, etc, etc).

These guys and gals were representative of a cultural mindset of the time. Though, I guess it could be argued that these people were exceptions to the way Americans typically acted, but I don't know that for sure. To me, these two generations of writers represented the way Americans thought. France was the cultural capital of the world, the far-east was thought of as a place of wisdom, Mexico, South America and Africa-- havens for the adventurous and rebellious. It was from that mindset that Americans thought of the world. Americans were interested in exploring the world outside our borders.

I bring this up now because I no longer think it is true. I really just don't see the same kind of energy being put into being a global citizen as I have seen in studying the early 20th century. This may be a bit shortsided because I don't really know how the entire population acted and felt, but I do know how a select few writers acted and felt. I think it can be said with little to no opposition that these writers were the greatest of their times. Part of being the greatest is being a voice for the voiceless, so to speak. They are representatives of the whole, or if not the whole, then at least a significant portion of the whole. Therefore they were speaking for their generation of like-minded individuals.

I just do not see the kind of adventurous spirit now that I saw then. That is very sad to me. The writing I enjoy, and the writing I attempt to create is almost primarily fueled by juxtaposing my life in America to the places I have been and what I have been taught by travel. I am not comparing myself to Hemingway or anything, I am just saying that there is a lot to be learned from travel. The Lost Gen. knew that. The Beats knew that. I don't think America's contemporary writers are focusing on travel as a way to transcend and learn what cannot be learned at home.

Maybe it is because there is just too much to worry about on the home front. Maybe there is just too much fonder for good writing currently in America. This may be true, but it is not as if the previous American writers ignored America completely. It's exactly the opposite. Ginsberg and Kerouac defined a generation by writing about the America they saw. But sometimes it is only possible to see the problem from the outside. It is by doing this that we can really get past the surface stuff and analyze what is really going on in our own country.

And besides that, we stop looking like elitist douches.

Just one man's opinion.


  1. are you fixing to get on that next adventure?

  2. I'm getting there, man... Need to get out of here for awhile, that's for sure! When are you taking off? Or have you already?